Friday, May 28, 2010


The Enterprise doesn't let candidates write letters to the editor. Of course, that doesn't stop certain candidates' organized supporters from holding letter-writing parties, gathering for tea in living rooms throughout the town to scribble slight variants of the same theme: "Candidate X is a loyal supporter of schools, public safety, and business. Candidate X is the only choice for the job."

My supporters are far less organized. So when the Enterprise offered to let me take over one of their regular columnist spots, I took the chance to get published. The only catch: the column had to be about bicycles. Easy enough.

DAVIS BICYCLES: Things I learned on the South Davis Bike Path
Davis Enterprise | May 28, 2010
Editor's note: This is the last of five columns on bike-related topics by the candidates for Davis City Council.

Dirt in my eyes again. Knuckles numb with cold. This had become my morning routine.

Forgetting my gloves in winter - that's my own fault. But those leaf blowers - those gas-guzzling machines that kick up dirt on the bike path - those were sent from hell to destroy me.

The bike path was fun. It let me ride from my mobile home in South Davis to the law school, bypassing most obstacles that confound the drivers of Davis. I'd sneak under roads, entirely avoiding downtown, jetting along the Arboretum, and shooting out onto the roundabout in front of Mrak Hall. Pedaling from my 'affordable' prefabricated house to my 9:30 a.m. constitutional law class took only seven minutes if I hurried.

Riding to school never feels like crossing a border, but it is. The campus isn't part of Davis. It's in unincorporated Yolo County, and thousands of students whose daily ride extends only from dorm room to classroom cannot vote in city elections. On the City Council, I'd work to annex the campus, West Village and adjacent areas into the city. It'd take time, but it's important.

The bike path wasn't perfect. On the way to King Hall, I'd dodge jogging housewives, baby ducks, confused pedestrians, homeless people and dusty leaf blowers. When I'm on the City Council, I'll ban those leaf blowers. They're noisy, polluting and they drive the good people at Rakes 'R' Us out of business. Palo Alto banned leaf blowers, and its cyclists and asthmatics are happier for it.

I'd leave the homeless alone, though. They have no place else to go, and as long as they stay off the bike path itself, I don't mind aging hippies sleeping in the bushes.

We're a wealthy city, and we pride ourselves on our concern for the less fortunate; the homeless deserve respect. They certainly don't get much respect from the Davis police or the City Council, and that's unfortunate.

Another biking obstacle students avoid is the infamous Davis bike cop. Like all police in Davis, he's got a bad rap with students. On Halloween, police on foot stopped students at random, violating the Constitution by initiating searches without reasonable suspicion.

At a candidates debate last month, a Davis mother of a teenager walked up to me afterward and told me about her son. He's a teenager and a good kid. But police decided one night they didn't like the look of him, so they followed him, slowly, for seven blocks. If anyone else did that, it'd be stalking. But if police do it, it's an 'investigation.'

Luckily, police on bicycles are less prone to such 'investigations' - bike cops playing stalker just look silly. Maybe all our cops should ride unicycles and juggle kumquats. They'd be too embarrassed to harass students except when absolutely necessary.

To deal with these obstacles, we need a municipal ordinance establishing affirmative rights for Davis residents: Police can't use tasers or physical force unless the subject gets violent, police can't racially profile or stalk students because of their age, and citizens may sleep under bushes if they're not bothering anyone. We could call it a Davis Bill of Rights.

It's unique, sure, but then we'd be known as a haven of civil liberties, and that's loads better than being known as the toad tunnel town.

Not that there's anything wrong with toads, or other scaly, slimy creatures. On my rides home from the law school, my favorite part of the trip was gazing out at Putah Creek. When I managed to escape the law library before nightfall, I'd stop to look for turtles resting on mossy stones in the mud. They'd sit there, silently, for hours on end, doing nothing. Almost as if waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

Kind of like the City Council - at least, until I'm on the dais.

- Daniel Watts used 'Wheel of Fortune' winnings to run for California governor in 2003 against Arnold Schwarzenegger on the single issue of 'lower student fees' for college students. During the course of this City Council campaign, he convinced the council to repeal two unconstitutional municipal ordinances. This summer, he'll intern for the Wikimedia Foundation, which he says will be 'awesome.' E-mail him at

Davis Enterprise: "Watts has no fear."

A true learning experience for Watts
By Crystal Lee | Enterprise staff writer | May 28, 2010 09:40
Daniel Watts conducts an a cappella group during rehearsal May 18 at the Mondavi Center for the UC Davis School of Law commencement ceremony, which took place a few days later. Watts just finished his second year of law school. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo
* Editor's note: This is the last in a series of profiles on the five candidates for Davis City Council.

Finals week is tough enough without simultaneously running for Davis City Council.

But candidate Daniel Watts has no fear.

Watts, 27, just finished up his second year at the UC Davis School of Law, after juggling a week crammed with final exams and an onslaught of candidate forums organized by various community groups.

'We had four of these debate forums and I had three finals - Thursday, Friday, Saturday - in the same week and two of them overlapped,' Watts said. 'I was really busy. But I read faster than most people and I am good at getting what needs to be done, done. So, I will just sit there and do what I have to do, and then move on to the next project.'

Watts has promised that, if elected to the council on June 8, he will focus his energy on speaking out for student rights and the constitutional rights of all Davis residents.

In fact, he points out, he has already effected change by getting the city to amend outdated municipal codes that were still on the books. One ordinance banned cursing in public, which, Watts said, is a blatant violation of First Amendment rights.

'More than any other candidate, I've already had an impact (on the City Council),' Watts said, at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters earlier in the month.

He said the city needs to crack down on numerous other offenses, including many committed by local business owners. Restaurants need to clearly describe menu items, for example, and businesses cannot impose surcharges or require minimum purchase amounts for credit card use, Watts said.

Residents should be able to file complaints for such violations by filling out a form on the city's website, he said. The city should then follow up on complaints and enforce the law, he said.

'It's worth it for the city to collect money,' Watts said. 'If people are violating the law and there's a municipal penalty imposed on them before it goes to the state, then the city can (collect on) the penalty instead of the state getting it.'

Over the course of his campaign, Watts said, he has learned more about other important community issues. The budget is a big one, he said.

Watts said he is willing to make the hard decisions necessary to bring the city's finances into balance.

'There's a lot of common sense things that people aren't talking about, like contract employees,' Watts said. 'Hiring employees on an ad hoc basis without the pension liabilities that come along with hiring full-time employees. ... I would do that for a lot of positions.'

That may mean layoffs, Watts acknowledged, but the city needs to figure out which employees are absolutely necessary.

'If they're unnecessary, then the city shouldn't be employing them,' Watts said. 'A lot of them don't even live in Davis, so it's not even like you're laying off Davis residents and making them go look for a job. These are people that commute to Davis, they take our money, they do a job that, in some cases, is superfluous, and they leave every day and we're stuck with the bill for the rest of eternity because they're part of the pension system.'

Watts said he believes the Davis City Council should be thinking of its residents' welfare above all else.

'The City Council, they shouldn't be concerned at all with people that don't live in Davis, except for those that are within our sphere of influence. Like the students that are part of the Davis community,' Watts said.

'But (non-residents are) not registered voters, they're not affected by City Council, they don't pay taxes, they don't patronize the businesses, necessarily, unless they show up on weekends or something. The City Council is not representing people that live in Vallejo or Vacaville, which is where some of the firefighters, city employees (and police officers) live.'

He said a friend of his is a Davis police officer, who lives in the suburbs of East Sacramento.

'He's taking his gigantic salary, of 70-grand or 80-grand, and he's spending it elsewhere,' Watts said. 'He doesn't stay in Davis on weekends. He goes back to his family. So, we have no obligation to represent him because he's not a Davis resident, he's not even close to a Davis resident.'

Lest it come across that Watts wants to pass out pink slips like candy, he said that is definitely not the case, but he does want to make sure the city is not wasting its dollars.

'We shouldn't just willy-nilly fire our employees, but if they're doing a job that is not necessary, then we should get rid of them,' he said. 'Or if we could do it cheaper by hiring someone else, like a student intern looking for work. We have an entire campus of 33,000 students ... and they will work for very little.'

He said he supports the half-cent sales tax renewal, Measure Q on the June ballot. If the tax is not renewed, the city will lose a source of funding equal to about $3 million a year.

'I support it because, otherwise, the city would have to cut a lot of things, but I think it's unfortunate that it's needed,' Watts said. 'In a perfect world, if we had enough money, or if we could survive without it, or if the public employees' unions hadn't held the City Council hostage for the last 10 years, then I would not want sales tax increases.'

Watts said one of his goals on the council would be to wean the city off its reliance on the existing half-cent sales tax.

Another goal, he said, is to ban the use of leaf blowers.

'They're noisy, they pollute, they consume gasoline, they kick dust in the air and they're annoying in general,' he said.

Watts said he is pleased with the response from residents, including many UCD students, to his campaign. But, if he had to do it all over again, there is one thing he would change.

'Next time around,' Watts said, 'I'll probably need to raise some money. ... I would like yard signs, maybe, next time.'

- Reach Crystal Lee at or (530) 747-8057. Comment on this story at

Where he stands

* Direct Davis police to release aggregate data on race, gender and age of detained citizens to stop profiling abuses

* Annex UC Davis and adjacent areas into city

* Create voting student representative on City Council

* Create city/UCD website providing legal services for renters in disputes with landlords

* Cut city staff salaries to balance city budget

* Continue repealing unconstitutional city ordinances

* Require Davis businesses to obey state law, eliminate fees for credit card purchases

* Stop Davis PD from beating protesters and blocking nonprotesters from observing protests

* Establish free 'bike share' program downtown

* Remove barriers to providing services to the homeless

* Coordinate with law school, legal observers, to monitor police abuses during Halloween, Picnic Day, protests

* Use City Council pulpit to draw state attention to UC Davis

* Install bigger, more visible street signs

* Ban gas-powered leaf blowers

* Trim trees covering street signs

* Light streets for safety

Candidate vitals

Name: Daniel Watts

Age: 27

Education: J.D. candidate, UC Davis School of Law; history and political science, UC San Diego

Occupation: Student, UC Davis School of Law; projects editor and articles editor, UC Davis Law Review; teaching assistant, political science department, UCD; clerk, Wikimedia Foundation, San Francisco

Civic involvement: Chairman, ACLU at UC Davis School of Law; ran for California governor in 2003 recall election; president of International Society in Oamishirasato, Chiba prefecture, Japan; lobbied Davis City Council to repeal unconstitutional portions of the municipal code

Recognition: Outstanding Oral Advocate Award; Graduating Senior Award, UC San Diego; graduated with honors, Warren College, UC San Diego; regional semifinalist, National Mock Trial Competition; gubernatorial candidate, 2003 California recall election; 'Wheel of Fortune' champion

Contact: E-mail or visit

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mayor violates campaign finance laws

An odd thing happened today.

Mayor Ruth Asmundson and law school professor Marty West -- she teaches at UC Davis School of Law, where I just finished my second year -- formed a campaign committee recently. They mailed hundreds of letters to Davis voters, asking them to support Sydney Vergis, a candidate who benefited from thousands of dollars in contributions from the shady firefighters' union when she lost her last run at city council in 2006.

This time, Vergis is ostensibly forgoing any firefighter money -- their money is tainted now, thanks to the good work of blogger David Greenwald over at the People's Vanguard of Davis. She's made a pledge not to take their money, and we can hold her to that pledge because she must report her contributions to the city clerk. So far, so good.

But Mayor Asmundson and West's "independent" campaign committee isn't held to the same reporting requirements as Vergis's campaign. Their "independent" expenditures are reported on a different timetable, and although they've already printed those letters, we won't know how they paid for them until June 3rd, a mere five days before the election. And the rules on contributions to committees are looser, too.

  • Mayor Asmundson's daughter Alinia Asmundson is the treasurer of Sydney Vergis's campaign. Since the Mayor's "independent" committee isn't supposed to consult or coordinate in any way with Vergis's campaign, this seems very shady. Does the Mayor honestly claim that she formed a campaign committee and started publishing advertisements for Vergis without mentioning it to her daughter -- Vergis's treasurer? Yeah, right.

  • The Mayor and Professor West's "independent" committee mailed a letter on May 22nd supporting Sydney Vergis. The Davis Municipal Code (section 12.01.055(c))requires a copy of that letter to be sent to all candidates and the city clerk within 24 hours, via fax, overnight mail, or personal delivery. No candidate received a letter within 24 hours, which is a blatant violation of Davis's campaign finance law. According to the Davis Vanguard, West and Asmundson didn't send a copy to the city clerk, either.

  • If the Mayor and Professor West "knowingly" or "willfully" violated the law, they are guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

  • At this point, I still haven't received a notice of the letter by personal delivery, overnight delivery, or fax. Professor Martha West sent me an email this morning (3 days after the deadline), but the law requires overnight delivery, fax, or personal delivery. I've received no missives from either West or Asmundson through the specified methods.
If nothing else, this demonstrates why fixing the Municipal Code is so important to me. The fact that the Mayor doesn't know the Code well enough to avoid possibly committing a misdemeanor shows that there's something seriously wrong either with the Code or with the mayor.

My high tech yard signs

From the Davis Enterprise's Bob Dunning, a columnist who mocks Davis politics:

WATTS UP? - after I praised Joe Krovoza for having the best campaign lawn signs in a long, long time, candidate Daniel Watts wrote to ask 'You didn't like Jon's and my yard signs?' - not so far, my friend - 'They're constructed of a special high-tech material that renders them invisible.' - I just might vote for this kid -

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"The Ron Paul of Davis politics"

From columnist Bob Dunning of the Davis Enterprise:

Council candidates range from 'able' to 'renegade'
By Bob Dunning | Enterprise columnist | May 16, 2010 12:18
The goal of every City Council candidate these days is to create a 'grassroots' image.


From the get-go, crafting an image is important. In addition to being a grassroots kind of guy, you must claim to be running a bare-bones campaign that emphasizes issues over personalities. You must insist you plan to serve all Davisites, not just those who contributed to your campaign.

And when it comes to contributions, you must be sure they come only from Davis residents, with the exception of that twenty bucks from your mother who lives in North Dakota.

The image-crafting has been going on for some time now and we're starting to see some separation between the candidates.

Joe Krovoza is running as the all-around good guy in the race. Even people who disagree with him can't resist that toothy grin. He's reachable, capable, approachable, affable, reasonable and all other positive words that end in 'able.' If you want the boy next door running this city, Joe's your guy.

Sydney Vergis hasn't seen a problem in town that can't be solved by a good bicycle. She's young, enthusiastic, smart, creative and willing to roll up her sleeves and get the job done. Substitute 'jump in and get both feet wet' if it works better for you.

Rochelle Swanson is the savvy businesswoman who's a great organizer and, oh by the way, she's qualified to do a little lawyering if needs be. She's also capable of playing the bike-riding-mom card if necessary, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Jon Li is the Energizer Bunny of the campaign, a policy wonk who can intelligently talk issues and structure and governance until you drop dead from exhaustion. Only it's more than image with Jon. He's the real deal. He talks issues in his sleep.

And finally we have Daniel Watts, who has been in nearly every City Council race since the days of Davisville, though he's sometimes disguised as someone else.

One year he was J.J. Charlesworth, another year Rob Roy. No matter the name, he's a renegade, break-the-mold candidate who plans to win on sheer force of will. Forget low-budget, this guy is no-budget.

Daniel is a veritable Crusader Rabbit as he battles injustice, represents the underrepresented and defends the Constitution against all odds. He's the Ron Paul of Davis City politics, with just about the same chance of winning.

Image. Watch for it. Coming soon to a City Council race near you.


I love it. For the first time in this campaign, Bob Dunning's making sense.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"It's in everyone's best interests that the students feel happy here."

From the California Aggie:

Although many concepts, such as long-term solutions for Davis' monetary problems, were reiterated throughout the forum, council hopeful and current UC Davis School of Law student, Watts, took a unique approach.

"What I offer is a representative of [UC Davis] students on city council. I could be a voice for them." Watts said. "It's in everyone's best interest that the students feel happy here. [They're] a large population."

Watts and other candidates mentioned tensions between university students and police after the protests earlier this year. The average age for a Davis resident is increasing, which Watts said, should be a reason for community members to take action. If the city wants students to return and raise a family, he advised, it must make the environment more inclusive, starting with the City Council.